None more brown: The irradiated shit-hole of New Vegas.
How to get old people playing games? It’s the question that – for the purpose of this review – I’m going to suggest is on every game developer’s lips. You could name your game Gran Turismo, and hope that old people think it’s a SAGA holiday simulator; you could streamline your control scheme in the hope that ‘greymers’ (suck it, Pachter) are aware of the existence of bowling on anything but short grass…or you could do what they’ve done with Fallout New Vegas, which is tap into the older market’s unfettered desires, stick it on a small plastic disc and sell it for £40. Sorry, £35. (Actually, now more like £20).
As with the obvious risk of alienating their prospective audience with the word ‘New’ in the title, Obsidian’s game makes noise at loftier goals than mere pandering to the silver sofa brigade. But brush away plot, inter-mutational relationships and troubling moral dilemmas and you’re left with a simulator that involves barging into houses, opening draws and seeing what stuff they’ve got. It’s like Cash in the Attic set in an irradiated shit-hole. It’s EXACTLY what old people are interested in.
The shameless shilling starts from the opening sequence: accompanied by the crooning of some velvet-voiced 50s idol, the player starts off in a graveyard. ‘There’s a well-dressed gentleman in a smart jacket. He seems nice. But wait, something’s wrong – there are some young people with him. He pulls out a gun…BANG! We fall into a grave. It’s not quite as we expected this death business. Where’s my dog, Ronald? Oh, we’ve been rescued by a Doctor. He seems nice; like Dick van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder. I like Doctors.’
From here your adventure starts, and New Vegas starts to open up like a flower – though not the kind you’d send to your sweetheart. It’s not just the locale that looks a bit weathered: the game engine is clearly showing its age and nearly buckles under the weight of its own ambitions, which would be more admirable if it attempted slightly more than basically remaking Fallout 3 with a few rusty bells and radioactive whistles. Thank God then for the writing, the most notable area where New Vegas does best its East Coast sibling.
Where Fallout 3 aimed clumsily for the heartstrings with its tale of looking for Liam Neeson among the crab people of Washington DC, New Vegas concerns itself with a more immediate and compelling story: ‘Who am I?’ And ‘If I’m so good at shooting, why was I working as a postman’? Such lofty questions are not answered overnight (nor by watching not very good Kevin Costner films, thankfully). They’re answered by exploring the landscape of New Vegas; meeting its folk; killing its irradiated beasts; stealing its shit.
The majority of your time will be spent walking over irradiated hills, mapping areas of interest like a wasteland Wainwright. Although it’s hard not to feel a little pang of sadness as you walk past yet another shell of an automobile, you soon forget when you climb a peak and find a deserted building with promises of spoils inside. You see, New Vegas takes the Hugh Hefner approach to courtship: never mind the looks, check out the wealth.
Fallout New Vegas is a huge game and its map is littered with more places to go, things to do and stuff to steal than there is in old, aka ‘now’ Vegas. Aside from the fairly compelling main storyline there are a number of side-quests that basically function as narrative rabbit holes. Deliver a message to one area and you can be given five more optional side-quests, as well as more things to look in and steal. All this is optional, but if you’re a virtual Howard Hughes then say goodbye to your friends, you’re about to bottle a lot of electronic wee-wee.
Most of New Vegas’ inhabitants want to kill you, from drug-addled Freaks and lumbering super mutants to a variety of sharp-clawed monsters. It’s not exactly a heartening place to spend time, but it also won’t be completely unfamiliar to anyone who’s explored an inner city after hours. Plus, unlike real life, you also have the immensely satisfying VATS combat system to defend yourself, which allows you to watch the results of your decisions play out in immensely satisfying slow motion.
But it’s not all plain sailing, while it may not be quite as buggy as a narcoleptic’s picnic – as some have reported, it still features a few eyebrow-raising quirks. Character’s heads get stuck in ceilings, giant lizards are embedded in rocks and you hold conversations with people whose eyes have vanished. It would be nice to imagine that the developers are dothing their fedoras to another reality defying adventure in the Nevada desert, but as far as I can recall, Hunter S. Thompson’s didn’t feature cross-dressing super mutants.
Other negatives are holdovers from Fallout 3. While it may concern itself with colourful language and adult situations, the character models and animations in New Vegas are rudimentary at best. Characters may talk of genocide, murder and rape as if they’re discussing what happened on last night’s Eastenders (and maybe they are, I haven’t seen it in ages), but the low-rent presentation makes it resemble a disturbing trilogy-capper to the immensely popular (ahem) Mannequin series of films. Similarly, attackers merely run straight at you and continue to attack until you get them, or they get you. There’s little strategy beyond choosing the right thing to hit them with.
The karma system is also a little uneven. Most people – save for perhaps, Richard Madeley – recognise that theft is wrong. Fallout New Vegas’ system of punishment for the 5-finger discount, however, seems to have been drafted in a Dickensian workhouse and then refined by The Daily Mail letters page. Let me explain; I helped murder an old woman based on hearsay (I know, I know) then confessed to her friend that I’d had a hand in her brutal demise. He basically shrugged his shoulders, so I reasoned that perhaps he wouldn’t mind if I helped myself to one of his plastic dinosaurs. After all, the place was littered with them. However, he then proceeded to beat me to death, while the decrease in karma made me about as popular as Nick Clegg strangling a dog.
But that’s the real beauty of New Vegas; it’s about creating your own stories in the wasteland, based on the consequences of your actions, intentional or otherwise. Besides, looking for realism in a world where you ‘meet’ a sex robot called ‘Fisto’ seems a bit redundant really. Fallout may have lost its looks, and on more than a few occasions turns into a doddering mess, but flashes of brilliance are so frequent that it’s easy to look past the surface, appreciate its deeper charms and remember a time when it didn’t seem so decrepit. And even if this is a last hurrah for the series, it’s not a bad way to go out really – certainly better than laying face down in an open grave.
“Rich? Yes. Handsome? Undoubtedly. Art? Erm…Look! A shiny thing!!!”
Just back from a brief paternity hiatus and what better time to take on an incident from Twitter that happened over a month ago? In Twitter land this is something like 65 million years ago, which makes me like a less charitable, less wealthy and less impressive Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park. And while there may not be any mind-blowing dinosaur factoids in the article below, I can still do a better Scottish accent. So suck it, Lord Attenborough.
The never-ending ‘video games as art’ debate reared its ugly and boring head recently (ahem) when Roger Ebert took to Twitter and said that they weren’t. Someone who liked them then said that they were. Someone else agreed and then Ebert said that he didn’t know and everyone took a deep breath and went back to wondering which of the trending celebrities had just died (or is that just me?) and re-tweeting 140 characters of the kind of life-affirming twaddle that should reasonably contradict sitting in front of a computer, re-tweeting life-affirming twaddle.
My own take is that art has somehow moved beyond its common definition to now basically mean a collection of useless and worthless crap that only becomes expensive when you combine the magic ingredients. Kind of like a Voltron sculpt made from dogshit that magically transforms into a platinum robot when you finish sculpting the 12th set of lion’s teeth. Or something. A bed by itself is worth exactly what someone would pay for a bed, but once Tracy Emin pays someone to wank on it, it’s worth a trillion pounds – and not because man-sap has suddenly become a precious commodity. At least as long as The Handmaid’s Tale remains a work of fiction or until Octomom reveals the secret process for turning said ingredient into a fortune.
But something is only worth what people will pay for it. So while a rich idiot may spend a fortune on a piece of crap (Voltron shape, optional), there will always be a richer idiot to sell it to. It’s like Liam Neeson said in The Phantom Menace: “There’s always a bigger fish (richer dickhead)”. Though I personally get more day-to-day usage from “Let’s get out of here before more droids (dickheads) show up.”
But I digress.
You don’t need to re-mortgage your house or sell your collection of Beatles masters to afford a video game, unless you’re one of those people who buys sealed NES carts of games that weren’t good enough to mass-produce in the first place. And if you are such a wealthy proponent of staring into the electronic middle-distance, I’m sure there’s better ways to kill the time until your cloned dinosaur eggs hatch than reading this nonsense.
Video games are art and you don’t need someone to wank over a copy of Fifa 10 to increase its artistic value (Which is a shame, because I’m sure Tiger Woods would be more than happy to oblige his EA Sports brethren). But that’s not to say that there aren’t steps that developers can take to elevate the very best video games into art. Take Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game I recently replayed due to a perfect storm of the annual summer games drought and baby related wallet chastening.
Arkham Asylum is masterfully directed, with incredible voice work (as far as video games go) and art direction. But it’s only on the second play-through that I truly appreciated this thanks mainly to my first go being dominated by the gaming trope that’s harder to kill than the theoretical lovechild of Jason Voorhees and the Queen Mother: the collectible item.
Ever since Pac-man chomped his way through a series of scenarios involving cherries, ghosts and pills, game designers have been obsessed with players collecting things. Pac-man is absolved of blame however, as his very existence is determined by his ability to collect random crap. Plus he had a wife and child to support, and I’m sure we’ve all done far worse for our loved ones.
Super Mario is another one who’s beyond reproach. While it appears he went to the Mushroom Kingdom to woo the Princess, he seemed to spend most of the time exterminating wildlife and stealing coins. But can we really blame him? Obviously the plumbing wasn’t really working out and how else could he afford to keep his brother in green dungarees? It’s not as though they’re part of the Blue Harbour collection at M&S (Though I’m approximately 8 years away from confirming that).
So while Mario may have been the original cyber-criminal, his hand was forced, again, by the demands of his family. Batman on the other hand is different; he doesn’t have a family, so the fact that he spends a large part of Arkham Asylum crawling round darkened ventilation shafts looking for glowing question marks and chattering teeth, when he should be stopping the Joker, makes him irresponsible, if not a complete tosser. It also takes the player out of the experience, which is probably the worst crime on display, in a game about super criminals, set in a prison.
But whatever Arkham Asylum’s collectibles take away from the narrative experience they’re still one of the more seamless examples of collectibles in video gaming. I’ve spent countless hours exploring every nook and cranny of a generic futuristic warehouse looking for Wolverine’s socks or a piece of concept art that has no value whatsoever, even within a fictional world with no established laws of commerce.
Perhaps that says more about my virtual obsessive nature, but if video game designers are all about being inclusive with video games, allowing old people (the Wii), young people (Modern Warfare 2) and sexual deviants (Second Life) to have fun then is it too much to ask that they make similar concessions for those with electronic OCD?
If a protagonist’s journey could be stopped every few minutes while they chased after some glowing crap in their peripheral vision, and such actions did not compromise a project’s artistic worth, then you’d probably see Brian Sewell tackle Avatar instead of the Turner Prize in his next investigative documentary. Therefore losing video game collectibles would not only help cure mentally defunct paddle-monkeys like myself, but it might also help to elevate video games into a legitimate art form.
Then again, if we had to queue up at an abandoned power station to have a go at Ico because Charles Saatchi had bought all the remaining copies, perhaps we’re better off where we are. Maybe Roger Ebert’s opinions on video games are irrelevant? Perhaps this article has been an equal waste of time? Though conversely, this may also mean that spending hours of real time chasing virtual collectibles isn’t as worthless as I thought all those paragraphs ago. And in that case, I’m cured. Huzzah!
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